By Jordan Newmark | 29 July 2020
Slap a kimura on your cup of joe with Ground Shark Coffee!
Actually, Ground Shark Coffee co-founders Nick Lowary and Adam Romero, who met training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, would say something friendlier and more inspirational like, ‘coffee that gives you the morning jolt or the afternoon energy to make your dreams a reality, and tastes damn good while it's at it.’
Either way, how many other coffee companies can roast arabica beans as well as they can rear naked choke?
This dynamic Denver, Colorado duo first became acquainted with each other about four years ago as Lowary joined Zingano BJJ & Muay Thai where Romero is a BJJ coach.
At the time, Lowary had just stopped playing lacrosse for University of Colorado Boulder, where he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and wanted to scratch a lifelong itch of learning to fight and possibly try his hand at Mixed Martial Arts.
On the other hand, Romero was a seasoned BJJ coach with over a decade of experience on the mats and almost two decades of experience in the kitchen as a professional chef. After a couple years of knowing each other, the two shared a moment of clarity about coffee and wanting to start a business.
The ground is my ocean, I am the shark, and most people don't even know how to swim.
“We were getting lunch after training one day and we were talking about it,” remembers Lowary. “[Romero] had been a chef for like 20 years. He’s really really good with food. Not really good with people; he’s just really introverted. He was like, ‘I’m really good at making food, but I just can’t sell it.
I can sell, but I just don’t like it and I don’t want to do it. But I have to find a way to make my living with food.’ And I was like, ‘I kind of always wanted to own a coffee shop.’ And we started spitballing ideas back and forth. A couple of days later, he texted me that he done some research and he was down to go in on this coffee idea. And I was like alright!”
From Rolling to Roasting
So, the blue belt and the four-stripe brown belt have agreed to this adventure, but what’s the first step? Well, they had a huge stroke of good luck as Coffee Fest, a huge expo that brings together industry minds and resources multiple times a year at a revolving location, was happening in Denver three weeks from that fateful lunch.
“We sent Adam and he met these guys who own Moru coffee,” tells Lowary. “They’re a roaster, but they also operate like a roaster-coop. They have a couple roasters and we can rent out our space on one and they do importing.
So, they have a facility we can use and roast our own coffee with our own profiles and our own beans. And it was just a kickass opportunity that we didn’t need to get our own facility or our own roaster and anything like that. Him meeting them was kind of like one of those kismet kind of things.”
Ground Shark Coffee was launched 8/18/18 with their 100% arabica beans creating a BJJ inspired line-up of roasts ranging from
lightest at White Belt to their medium at Blue Belt to their darkest at Purple Belt.
Plus, an espresso roast at Brown Belt. It’s a coffee founded in a community with an obvious nod toward that community Lowary and Romero love, but it’s also an artisanal coffee with a fun name with a daring spirit.
“We wanted to find a way to bring Jiu Jitsu out and also not exclude people who don’t train,” adds Lowary. “I think the name Ground Shark is exactly what we were going for with that. People who train get it and get the context, and people who don’t think it’s a cool sounding name and that’s exactly what we wanted.
And on ‘Shark Week’ we always do a sale. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year! It was one of those things that we had met through Jiu Jitsu and I had done a ton of research into the ecommerce space. I realized in a brick and mortar space you have to be open to everybody.
You have to have that kind of brand that when people are walking down the street they think it looks cool. In ecommerce, with targeted ads, you really can pick a group of people and say, ‘these are our community’ and for us that was Jiu Jitsu. So, we were like let’s sell to people like us and totally go in on this and see how it runs for a few years and if we want to open it up after that then we can.”
Artisanal & Avante-Garde
While he’s happy to drink any of their mainstays, Lowary’s favorite is coincidentally the belt he holds currently- Blue. “The medium has a good body because it’s a blend of the same coffee we use for our dark roast and our light roast, so it’s working on a couple of levels,” says Lowary, but it’s their latest roast, the limited edition “Horizon”, which has his heart.
Horizon is a shift in style for Ground Shark as it is not a BJJ specific branding, it has a different manufacturing process for the coffee beans itself, and, noteworthy, it’s first run donated proceeds of sales to help rebuild the 10th Planet BJJ in Long Beach that unfortunately burned down.
“Horizon is all ‘honey-processed’,” explains Lowary. “When you’re processing coffee, there’s two real ways to do it- there’s the ‘natural process’ and the ‘washed process’.
In the natural process, you take all the natural fruit, you put it out in the field and the sun dries off all the fruit and ferments it that way.
The washed process, you kind of soak it all in water and that kind of kickstarts the process.
So, the washed process has generally a darker roast or holds a darker roast, it’s generally a denser coffee. And the natural process is a little bit lighter and has a little bit more fruit flavor because the fruit stays on it.
The honey process, you take the fruit off, but you leave the mucilage on the pit, you throw all that out in the field, the sundries that and it looks like honey, so you get a little bit of the flavor profile of the lighter roast, but a little bit of the denser body of the darker roast.
You come out with this really unique and blended and well-rounded single origin, which is something that’s hard to get. And that’s what I love about it. You get the lighter fruit flavors like apricot, little bit of floral flavors like clover, and then you’ve also got that darker, maltier body in the background.”
Coffee Outside the Cup
Beyond using cutting edge processes for new flavors, Ground Shark is utilizing Romero’s culinary experience and their coffee to enhance other areas of the kitchen- coffee meat rubs. “Man, they’re good, he did such a good job with those,” exclaims Lowary about Romero’s meat rubs that come in three varieties- Beef, Pork and Poultry, and Game. “The inspiration for it comes from our ‘Game rub’.
A lot of the idea behind seasoning game meat is complimenting that flavor and cutting, especially in a more gamey meat like antelope, that sage flavor it's got. And he’s got a couple tricks up his sleeve to cut that and we’ve been wanting to kind of use those.”
After two years of running their first business, Lowary and Romero are beyond the getting a foothold stage and are reaching for something higher. “Living in Colorado, we’re in the mountains all the time and we want to bring more climbing, bring in more outdoor stuff, and try to expand in that direction,” asserts Lowary whose aspiration is to make Ground Shark Coffee a name in the market for high energy lifestyle.
“I really want to be a Red Bull type company, where we’ve got this kickass crew of sponsored athletes who are crushing it in whatever extreme sports they’re in- whether that’s Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, MMA, rock-climbing, mountaineering, hang-gliding or whatever it is.”
To grab some Ground Shark Coffee today, head to www.GroundSharkCoffee.com. Follow @GroundSharkCoffeeCo on Instagram to see what’s up next and get some coffee-fueled inspiration.